Annual Wild Rice

Annual Wild Rice Zizania aquatica, OBL

A flock of egrets in the distance?  No.

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While fishing today on the fresh tidal Patuxent River at Jug Bay, Jeb and I noticed hundreds of Tyvek bags, closed-off with zippy-ties on annual wild rice heads.  Someone, likely the Park & Planning Commission or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is gathering wild rice to assist with re-population efforts.

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Reading on-line, Jug Bay had 326-acres of wild rice in 1989, which dropped to 51-acres in 1999, through a 10-year period.  What happened in those 10-years of depletion?  Towson University was commissioned to do a study, and determined that it was caused by the overgrazing by resident, year-round Canada geese.

Towson made recommendations to (1) introduce rice planting in suitable marsh lands that previously supported rice, (2) eradicate competitive and invasive Phragmites, when and where observed, (3) selectively install anti-goose fencing/exclosures, and lastly, (4) greatly increase the legal hunting season for resident goose.  Did it help?

The 2003 stand of rice went to 93-acres, 2005 was 179-acres of rice, and the 2009 study results yielded 247-acres of wild rice.  I suspect that these collection bags will help gather seed to help fill-in areas of Jug Bay, to continue expansion.

I’d just use a canoe and whack the rice heads with a paddle, directly into the boat.  I’ll do my part by hunting resident goose.

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The inflorescence of wild rice has two distinct parts.  The upper half of the seed head has ascending, upward branchlets.  It is this part that will contain the mature grains of wild rice.  The lower half of the inflorescence has downward drooping flowers.

On the fresh tidal Patuxent and Potomac, wild rice is at peak bloom generally around August 1 of each year.  By mid to late September, the grains of rice mature and will dehisce (drop) from the plant.  It is these seeds that will provide next year’s annual rice stands.

The harvesting of rice has a very narrow window of two to three weeks during the month of mid to late September.  If you run a boat through wild rice using a push pole, a second person can perform the collection, where you sweep rice plants into the boat with sticks or fishing poles.  Mature rice will fall off the plant and into the boat.

The upper part of the plant inflorescence contains the rice, and the rice will likely have a “beard.”  De-bearding is called parching, where the rice is set out in the sun to dry, or it can be stirred over heat to help separate the chaff/beard from the seed.  Cook and season to taste, yum.

 

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